Saving lives through immunisation
By Emmanuel Simpokolwe
Esther Jelofasi almost lost her mind and remained clueless on what to do to save the life of her three-year old fourth born daughter who fell sick all of a sudden until she met members of Dzaleka mother care group in Dowa district.
The child was rushed to Dzaleka Health Centre where she was diagnosed with a number of viral and bacterial ailments. Since the Child was underweight and in poor health condition health personnel at the clinic immediately prescribed food supplements [Chiponde].
What Jelofasi did not know was that the condition that her child was in was preventable only if she presented in time for the vaccines required for any under-five child.
At the Health Center Jelofasi met with a group of well-trained women in maternal and morbidity issues who conduct awareness campaigns in the district about the importance of immunization together with Health Surveillance Assistants (HSA) in the district. Members of the mother care group have taken it upon themselves with technical support from health specialists to ensure good health of children and pregnant women in the area. “Immunization helps your child become immune and protected from diseases caused by bacteria or viruses.
It also helps protect others around him or her,” said Violet Chipeta a senior HSA at Dzaleka Health Centre.
Chipeta said previously a lot of women who used to visit the health center with their children had complications that were a result of parental negligence. She said such was the case despite the huge impact of immunization programs on the reduction of child morbidity and mortality associated with vaccine preventable diseases.
According to Chipeta this was a result of low uptake of the immunization programs for children among women in rural areas because they have not yet appreciated the importance of getting vaccines for children under the age of five.
She however applauded the mother care group that has since been mobilizing fellow women to take immunization seriously. “We are very happy that the mother care groups at Dzaleka refugee camp are working tirelessly in sensitizing women about the importance of vaccines within and outside the camp, this has drastically increased the number of women who are accessing immunization services at the center for their children,” said Chipeta.
Adding: “In the past we had low coverage of vaccines, low growth monitoring and immunization services but now we are able to reach a lot of people than in the past,” Chipeta said. In Ntchisi district where a similar project is underway a senior HSA at Malambo Health Center Ireen Chalungama said previously they could only reach about 20 children but there has been improvement in numbers recently, thanks to the program.
According to Chalungama with the help of the women groups who conduct door to door mobilization they are now able to reach to about 80 percent of the number of their monthly targeted women and children. “Nowadays our work as HSAs has become easier. These women are doing a very wonderful job I wish we had similar mother care groups everywhere in the country,” Chalungama said.
One of the members of Kazolongwe mother care group in Ntchisi, Khumbidze Raphael said their work is easy because of the training they receive from Malawi Health Equity Network (MHEN) and it’s implementing partner organizations. “We conduct door to door awareness campaigns but all vaccines are only given to mothers and children after careful review by healthcare professionals. We also made them aware that the vaccine might cause discomfort, pain but this is minimal compared to the pain of the diseases these vaccines prevent,” said Raphael.
MHEN is implementing a Health Systems Strengthening Project with financial support from GAVI through Ministry of Health (MoH) in Dowa, Ntchisi, Mchinji, Chitipa and other districts.
According to MHEN coordinator Hanna Dzongo the project also aims at enabling women, children and communities to access quality immunization services and health care with improved quality and uptake of immunization services. She said the project seeks to contribute and strengthen the capacity of integrated health systems to deliver immunization by resolving health constraints. “We aim to increase the level of equity in access to services and strengthening civil society engagement in the health sector,” Dzongo said.
According to the project document, the overall goal is to contribute towards the achievement of the Malawi targets for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which stipulate that by 2030, nations should end preventable deaths of newborns and children under the age of five. The Malawi Growth and Development Strategy stipulates that among the five key priority areas participatory health governance is among them, to ensure that barriers to equitable and quality immunization are reduced.
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